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Reviewed by:
  • Enacting Nature: Ecocritical Perspectives on Indigenous Performance ed. by Birgit Däwes, Marc Maufort
  • Virginie Magnat (bio)
Enacting Nature: Ecocritical Perspectives on Indigenous Performance. Edited by Birgit Däwes and Marc Maufort. Bern: Peter Lang, 2014; 262pp.; illustrations. $61.95 paper.

Situating their work within what they describe as “a chorus of ecological voices,” the editors position this volume as the first examination of the interconnections between ecocritical methodologies and Indigenous performance in North America, Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands. In his 2012 revised edition of Ecocriticism, considered by the editors as an important reference, author Greg Garrard observes that whereas the field of ecocriticism is inclusive of diverse methodological orientations, deep ecology constitutes the “explicit or implicit perspective of ecocritics,” who distinguish themselves from environmentalists by advocating “a shift from a human-centered to a nature-centered system of values” (Garrard [2004] 2012:23–24). Yet major objections have been raised to this model of deep ecology: its potentially misanthropic and apolitical ecocentrism as well as its affiliation with “modern reconstructions of North American Indian, pre-Christian Wiccan, shamanistic and other ‘primal’ religions” (Garrard 2012:25). Since Enacting Nature focuses on the two interrelated themes of ecojustice and ecospirituality, it appears to align itself most closely with ecofeminism, which engages with environmental justice issues and opposes all forms of domination and violence, thereby potentially bridging the ethical and spiritual orientations of deep ecology with social ecology’s political commitment to sustainable living and participatory democracy (Garrard 2012:29–30). Birgit Däwes and Marc Maufort specify, however, that this edited collection “does not purport to offer a definitive theoretical model through which ecological Indigenous performance must be examined” but instead explores “the multi-faceted languages of ecology on the contemporary Indigenous stage” (13).

Most of the contributions nevertheless share a common research agenda as they build upon postcolonial analyses of “ecological imperialism, environmental racism, and the ecological implications of cultural diversity and mobility” to confront tenacious Eurocentric constructions of “the eco-Indian or eco-Aboriginal” (12), which the editors cite Garrard as tracing to 16th-century representations of “‘primitive’ people [...] dwelling in harmony with nature, sustaining one of the most widespread and seductive myths of the non-European ‘Other’” (14).

In her opening essay, Däwes reads The Edward Curtis Project (2010) by Marie Clements and The Unplugging (2012) by Yvette Nolan as “cultural ecosystems” (23) that account for the long-term political, social, cultural, and economic effects of colonialism through an engagement with “space and land, as well as time and temporality, as crucial constituents of their plays’ encoded environments” (25). Ric Knowles extends this perspective to the culturally encoded landscapes of ancient Indigenous mounds and earthworks, which in North America can be traced to 4000 BCE. He observes that these mounds “functioned not to dominate the land [but as] focal points for trade, economic, and artistic exchange” as well as “sites for intellectual and spiritual practice” (49). Having worked as a dramaturg on the project Side Show Freaks and Circus Injuns with artists Monique Mojica and LeAnne Howe, Knowles considers the embodied relationship they developed with the architecture of these earthworks. This model of Indigenous ecocritical performance leads him to identify alternative dramaturgical principles supporting a type of dramatic action that relies “less on conflict and domination” and embodies “the patience of the mounds,” which he evocatively envisions as operating at a deep level in a “negotiated harmony with the ecosphere, with the universe” (57).

Domination, conflict, and the drive to turn Indigenous land into profit are central to Drew Hayden Taylor’s play The Berlin Blues. Maryann Henck demonstrates that Taylor’s [End Page 182] strategic use of humor becomes a powerful form of criticism raising very serious questions about eco-, community-based, and pro-poor tourism. In the play, the grotesque German curators of the theme park Ojibway World are not only “guilty of sensationalizing and exoticizing Native culture,” Henck argues, but are also the agents of “environmental imperialism” (92). Yet the destruction of the park by its imported herd of buffalo reveals that even the most enterprising German imperialists can be forced by nature to take their relationship to the...


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